Over the past decade, the Center for Security Policy has emerged as one of the most notoriously bigoted and conspiratorial think tanks in Washington, D.C. Under its founder and president, Frank Gaffney, the organization regularly found itself in the news for promoting anti-Muslim conspiracies — including farcically paranoid ones. Yet, unlike similar organizations that remain on the political fringes, the Center for Security Policy is remarkably close to the halls of power — not just to President Donald Trump, for whom Gaffney was an informal adviser during the campaign, but also to the traditional power brokers of the defense establishment.
That closeness will be put on display in Virginia on October 17, when the Center for Security Policy will be co-hosting a symposium on “asymmetric threats.” Organized with the Institute for the Study of War, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, and the government contractor CACI International (whose employees have been accused of detainee torture in Iraq), the confab includes scheduled speakers who are high-ranking officials in several branches of the military.
“Frankly speaking, this is a hate group. Its activities have been documented for years and are well-known, but under this administration, it is making a comeback.”
The presence of those government officials is raising eyebrows.
“Frankly speaking, this is a hate group,” said James Zogby, president of the public policy research group the Arab American Institute, in reference to the Center for Security Policy. “Its activities have been documented for years and are well-known, but under this administration, it is making a comeback.”
In addition to Gaffney himself, the list of scheduled speakers includes a number of high-ranking active duty military officials. The anticipated participation of four active duty lieutenant generals — the Air Force’s VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson and David. D. Thompson; Daniel J. O’Donohue of the Marine Corps; and Michael K. Nagata of the Army — at an event sponsored by Gaffney’s group might stand in contrast to the equal opportunity manuals issued by each of their respective service branches.
The Air Force and Army did not respond to requests for comment. The Marine Corps referred questions about the event to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who did not return a request for comment.
Little is usually made of the the armed services’ policies on associations with so-called extremist groups, but all the branches have them. The codes received renewed attention after the participation of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis in last year’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Pistolis was court-martialed and sentenced to a month in prison, docked pay, reduced in rank, and discharged from the Corps upon his release.
The Army’s equal opportunity manual warns that “participation in extremist organizations and activities by Army personnel is inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service.” It defines these “extremist” groups as follows:
Extremist organizations and activities are ones that advocate racial, gender, or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, or national origin, or advocate the use of or use force or violence or unlawful means to deprive individuals of their rights under the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States, or any State, by unlawful means.
The Army manual specifies that service personnel are “prohibited” from “attending a meeting or activity with the knowledge that the meeting or activity involves an extremist cause.”
The Center for Security Policy’s recent history is littered with calls for religious discrimination; officials, right up through its executives, routinely stoke hate against Muslims. A 2010 CSP report described sharia, Muslim religious code, as “an alien legal system hostile to and in contravention of the U.S. Constitution,” and CSP Vice President Clare Lopez claimed in a 2013 speech that “when Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists.”
Gaffney, for his part, has explicitly called for the persecution of observant Muslims, saying in a 2011 interview that that those who follow Islamic religious code are practicing “an impermissible act of sedition, which has to be prosecuted under our Constitution.”
Though many of the Center for Security Policy’s positions are shared with the white nationalist movement, Gaffney is usually careful to avoid associations with explicit white nationalists. But, in a few instances, he has crossed paths with them. In 2015, Gaffney had prominent white nationalist Jared Taylor on his radio show, “Secure Freedom Radio.” Gaffney praised Taylor’s website, American Renaissance, as “wonderful.” In the interview, Taylor and Gaffney decried the civilizational threat posed by Muslim refugees in Europe and the U.S., and Gaffney said he “appreciated tremendously” the work being undertaken by Taylor.
Gaffney ultimately scrubbed the interview from his website and claimed to be “unfamiliar with Mr. Taylor’s views on other matters and did not discuss or endorse them.”
Gaffney’s promotion — accidental or not — of Taylor’s work, alongside the Center for Security Policy’s track record of promoting discrimination against a religion whose practices would otherwise be constitutionally protected, appears to tick several of the boxes of a group falling under the Army’s definition of an “extremist organization.”
The other military branches share similar policies.
The Air Force’s equal opportunity manual informs commanders and supervisors that participating in groups “espousing supremacist causes or advocating unlawful discrimination” is a violation of the Air Force’s equal opportunity policies. And the Marine Corps directs that:
Marines must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin; advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.
The officers attending the Center for Security Policy-sponsored conference aren’t declaring themselves members of the group or even explicitly endorsing the organization’s anti-Muslim statements. And there’s no indication that Gaffney or any other Center of Security Policy staff will discuss their efforts to discriminate against Muslims or spread anti-Muslim conspiracy theories at a conference about cyber defense, defense technologies, and procurement.
But the Center for Security Policy’s history of promoting conspiracy theories and advocating various forms of discrimination against practicing Muslims appears to fall squarely within the military’s definitions of the sort of “extremist group” with which active duty members of the military are forbidden from associating.
Those who have spent years monitoring the Center for Security Policy say the group’s continued prominence under the Trump administration is troubling, though unsurprising.
“I don’t expect people in the Trump administration to push back against this group, given that they share many of its views,” said Zogby. “The only leverage we have is to continue to speak out about their influence, which is like a cancer eating away at government from the inside.”